President Trump might have been welcomed to Arizona on Tuesday by the fellow truther once known as his political soul mate.
But Joe Arpaio had trouble explaining misspent millions and hundreds of uninvestigated sex crime cases, and numerous civil rights violations during his long tenure as Maricopa County sheirff.
Arpaio was voted out the same day Trump was voted in. The new Maricopa sheriff is Paul Penzone, who seeks to live up to his sworn duty to enforce the laws of Arizona as well as defend the U.S. Constitution. That includes a situation where, in Penzone’s words “the governor, acting under his authority in a constitutional manner, executes an executive order.”
“You can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce when you’re in law enforcement,” Penzone told The Daily Beast.
He is not one of the Arizona sheriffs who declared they would not enforce Gov. Doug Ducey’s “stay home, stay safe” emergency COVID-19 restrictions. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Mohave County Sheriff Douglas Schuster are among at least a half-dozen sheriffs in other states who have made similar declarations, deeming stay-at-home and business shutdown orders unconstitutional.
The so-called constitutionalist stance is embraced by Gerard “Jerry” Sheridan, Arpaio’s former chief deputy. Sheridan is seeking to unseat Penzone in November.
“The Sheriff of a county is elected by and reports only to the citizens in the county,” Sheridan tweeted. “No governor or mayor can tell him how to do his job. Sheriff Penzone of MCSO drop your snitch line to catch law abiding citizens doing Constitutional things.”
What Sheridan calls a ”snitch line” is an online system that Penzone set up that allows people to report violations of the pandemic restrictions. Snitch is a pejorative used by criminals to describe people who cooperate with law enforcement. One longtime street rhyme is “snitches get stitches.” And here is someone using the word in an effort to get elected a county’s top lawman.
Initially, reports of violations of the governor’s stay-at-home, business shutdown order were handled via 911. Deputies were dispatched to the scene with instructions to begin by educating violators about the danger they were creating. Deputies were to summon a supervisor before taking any further actions. And citations were to be issued only where there was what Penzone terms “aggressive and repeated behavior” that left the deputies with no other choice.
“You have to find that balance, not to criminalize but also to promote health and safety, to save lives,” Penzone said.
The situation became more nuanced when the governor began to relax some business restrictions. Penzone had already become worried that the use of 911 tied up police resources when crime had remained essentially constant.
Under the present system, citizens who call 911 with a COVID-19 restriction complaint are directed to file a report online. Some people just went directly to the sheriff’s website.
“If you wish to contact MCSO with questions or concerns regarding the emergency order...” reads a line at the top.
A click on “Contact Us” brings the person to a “Tips” page. A civilian investigator will then respond to confirm there is a violation before any further action is taken.
Penzone reports that only a minority of the people visiting the page report violations.
“The majority of that traffic has been the people who are complaining about the site,” Penzone said.
He added, “We’ve allowed politics to become divisive, even more so during a pandemic.”
He also said, “If we want to see the economy come back and also be safe, we can’t let politics decide how we behave.”
Penzone has emailed the county attorney to confirm that the governor’s order is indeed constitutional. The county attorney has not yet responded.
The issue is likely to come up in court May 30, when Mertia Kraya, proprietor of Euro Pizza Cafe in Fountain Hills, contests a citation she received on April 5. Deputies visited her establishment on several occasions regarding patrons eating at outdoor tables and drinking beers from a bucket of ice marked ”To Go.” She insisted that nobody was “dining in” as prohibited by the restrictions.
"[Kraya] told me that my interpretation and her interpretation were different and that if I had to cite her for this, a judge would have to decide whose interpretation was right," a sheriff's captain wrote in a report.
Kraya was issued summons #0700033420009801 charging her with violation of Section 26-317 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.
“A violation of an order, rule, or regulation issued pursuant to a State of Emergency is a Class 1 misdemeanor,” the law reads.
That was the lone such summons issued by the sheriff, so Kraya had no trouble figuring out who Penzone was talking about when he accused an unnamed restaurant owner who violated the order of being “selfish.” She faces a maximum $2,500 fine. She told The Daily Beast she intends to fight it.
“I’ll see my day in court,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”
She noted that she has a medical condition that leaves her immunocompromised, with particular reason to fear COVID-19. She added that she would never want to endanger her customers or her employees or her family at home, who include an EMT in the Air Force Reserve. She reported that her cause has been taken up by those who oppose the restrictions.
“They took my case and ran with it,” she said. “The Rosa Parks that stand up to the police.”
The anti-shutdown folks who are seeking to capitalize on the case will have reason to wish that the evidence did not include body camera footage that shows the deputies being only reasonable.
Meanwhile, Sheridan is denouncing Penzone’s “snitch line.” He may be hoping to make voters forget his former boss’ many transgressions.
“It is typical of his liberal mentality to have people snitch each other out for going to get something to eat or go for a walk in the park,” Sheirdan told The Daily Beast.
Sheridan said that “when I get elected,” he will tutor his deputies on “what the Founding Fathers meant when giving the people freedom and liberty.”
Sheridan said he would oppose a shutdown even in his native Queens, New York, where his father was an NYPD lieutenant and where thousands have died in the pandemic. Sheridan said it is up to people to take their own precautions.
“There is a degree of personal responsibility that people have,” he said.
Lest anyone think Penzone is anti-business, the establishments that will soon reopen include a beauty parlor owned and operated by Penzone’s wife. He has been helping her install safety additions. He reports that her customers are clamoring to come back.
“There are a lot of roots out there,” he said.
As his wife goes back to work, the man who unseated Trump's political soulmate will be out enforcing the law in accordance with this oath.